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Gregarious
Chapter One: “Rival”

We have met the enemy and he is us.~Walt Kelly

Monday, August 17, 2009

“You look grumpy,” Daphne is so kind as to inform me as she buckles her seat belt.

“If I were going to St. James, I wouldn’t even be awake right now.” I grumble, pulling out of her driveway.

Her hand moves to flip on the radio but I stop her. “I’m not awake enough to concentrate on driving and listening to music.”

Daphne makes a point to huff loudly as she slumps and crosses her arms. “You suck.”

“Would you rather take the bus?” I ask, only half-joking. If I didn’t have to pick up Daphne, Ethan and Cody, I'd get at least another half-hour of sleep.

“Your mom only lets you use the car because my mom picks her up,” she snickers.

Daphne's always been a morning person and I’ll never understand how she can go to sleep at nine o’clock and not think she’s missing something. Me, I prefer to go home after school, take a nap and then stay up most of the night drawing or surfing the net. Late night used to be the only time I was able to draw (or look at porn) without my dad looking over my shoulder, but it’s become a habit I don’t want to break; even if I don’t have to worry about him anymore.

“Would you text Ethan so he’ll be out here when we pull up? I want to grab some breakfast from McDonald's since it might be the only thing I eat all day from what you tell me about the lunch menu.”

“Another reason why you don’t want to take the bus,” she quips, her phone already in her hand.

I ignore her and continue to drive, hearing her phone ping every two seconds. “Is he ready?” I ask, turning down Ethan and Cody’s street.

“Yeah. He’ll be outside and Cody’s already at his house so you don’t have to make two stops.”

Ethan and Cody live in one of the nicer neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that isn’t inside a gated community, like where my family used to live. Both of their houses suggest that their families are wealthy, but that isn’t exactly true.

Cody used to live with his parents in one of the worst neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, but, when they found out he was gay, they went ape-shit. Now he lives with his aunt and uncle who are both lawyers who make more money than they know what to do with. In the three years that he’s lived with them, I’ve only met them a handful of times because they aren’t ever home. Cody spends most of his time at Ethan’s, Daphne’s, or my house. That’s how it’s always been though, long before he moved in with his aunt and uncle.

Ethan’s family comes from old money that dried up due to his grandparents exorbitant spending habits in their later years. When they had to go into a retirement home a few years ago, he and his mom and dad took ownership and moved into their house. His parents are teachers so there isn’t any way they’d be able to afford the house if they had to pay a mortgage. His mom is cool; she’s actually going to be Molly’s 2nd grade teacher this year. His dad is an idiot though. He’s stuck by Ethan since he came out last year, which, I guess, is something. But he’s such a control freak when it comes to Ethan playing the violin. I know you’d expect a music teacher to want his kids to learn to play an instrument too, but he puts a lot of pressure on Ethan and rarely praises him no matter how well he does.

Speak of the devil. “Shouldn’t he be at school already?” I ask Daphne as I pull into the Golds’ driveway.

“Yeah, like an hour ago to do lesson plans or something,” Daphne agrees, grumbling with me as Mr. Gold walks toward my car.

“I thought Cody and Ethan would be out here,” I hiss in a whisper, trying to keep a smile on my face as I unroll the window because it’s obvious he wants to talk to us.

“They said they were,” Daphne says, sinking down into her seat.

“Good morning, Mr. Gold,” I greet him as he bends down, his head level my window.

“Good morning, Justin,” he replies in a warm voice I’ve rarely heard him use.

“Are Cody and Ethan ready?” Daphne asks from beside me.

“They’ll be out in just a second.” Mr. Gold places his hand on the window frame and taps it, making pieces of the chipping paint fall off. “Diane had to find her purse to give Ethan some breakfast money. He said you’re planning a trip to Mac Donald’s?”

I want to correct him and tell him that it’s McDonald’s, not MAC Donalds. And who ‘plans a trip’ to McDonald’s anyway? It’s not like we’re going to fucking Mexico or even Philadelphia; it’s a fast food drive-thru! I don’t tell him any of this though and just choose to smile uncomfortably at him.

“Shouldn’t you be at school, Mr. Gold?” Daphne asks.

I break out in laughter and shush her, “Daph!”

Mr. Gold is uncharacteristically relaxed and chuckles, “I’m tutoring after school this year so I only get there a few minutes early.”

I sigh in relief as Ethan and Cody come running out of the house and toward the car.

“You guys have a good day at school,” Mr. Gold says, rising. “Too bad the two of you didn’t want to take a music class,” I hear him call over his shoulder as he walks up toward the house.

Cody and Ethan get in the car and begin talking a mile-a-minute as I pull out of the driveway. Ethan’s apologizing for making us talk to his father outside of school, not that I’ve ever done any differently. Cody is bitching about how much the day is going to suck and I’m about to ask him why when Ethan speaks a name I’ve heard too many times.

Daphne twists around in her seat so quickly I’m afraid she might break the seat belt. “I can’t believe you fucked Brian Kinney! You know what an asshole he is, Cody!”

“I know, but he was at the diner last night with his friend Michael when Ethan and I went in.”

“Why do you even go there?” I wonder aloud. “Every time you do, you bitch about something. If it isn’t a big bear staring at you the whole time you eat it’s…”

“It’s entirely Ethan’s fault!” Cody interrupts, sticking his face in the space between the front seats.

“How is it my fault?” Ethan wails, pulling Cody backward.

I watch them in the rear view mirror, pushing one another, and I crack my first real smile of the day. Annoying as their constant arguing can be, it’s very funny when they get physical. “Why don’t you two just fuck and get it over with?” I yell, cutting through their bickering.

“Ewwww….” Ethan and Cody whine in unison. Suddenly, they're sitting on opposite ends of the backseat.

Daphne slaps my arm and giggles, “You’re so mean to them.”

“Daphne we can’t take anything he says seriously for a few hours,” Ethan says while grinning evilly at me in the side view mirror. “He’s still asleep, dreaming of a perfect first day of senior year at St. James Academy.”

“Whatever, fuckers. Cody! Tell me what happened.”

“Ethan forgot that his dad wanted him to help clean out the attic and he left in the middle of us eating,” Cody explains, petulantly.

“He’s already paid me back for that,” Ethan defends and I hear him slap Cody’s arm.

“So I was alone. And then Michael left.... And Brian was alone and…”

“You figured, why not fuck a guy who's known to fuck everyone over?” Daphne interrupts him.

I laugh as he whimpers like a puppy, “It wasn’t like that.”

“So what was it like?” I pull into McDonald’s drive-thru and see a huge fucking line. Shit!

“I didn’t plan on fucking him. I swear!”

“Yeah, right,” Ethan remarks. “You park, Justin and we’ll go in.”

“You can wait, Fatty,” I bitch. “I’m not getting out of this line to wait in a longer one inside.”

“You’re calling me fat?” Ethan asks, leaning up and wedging his face in between Daphne’s and mine. “You’re the one who has to buy jeans four sizes too big so your ass can fit. And then your mommy has to mend them for you.”

Now Daphne and Cody are giggling and I’m two seconds away from ordering them out of the car and letting them walk to school. Even if it is my mommy's car and I’ve been blackmailed into driving them.

I twist in my seat, put my hand over Ethan’s face and push him backward. “For the record, I have a perfect body and mouths water when they see my ass. I doubt if looking at your collective ass ever made anyone’s mouth water.”

“Uh-uhm…” Daphne clears her throat. “Stop talking about fat asses because I beat you all. I know you three idiots are blinded by cock but I’m the only one who gets to complain. I have a ghetto ass.”

“You do not!” Cody, Ethan and I say at once.

Daphne huffs. “Whatever. Would you pull up already?”

Oh. Fuck. How long have I been waiting back here? The truck in front of me is now getting their food and I’m not even at the speaker. I zoom up, roll down the window and ask the order taker to wait a minute. “What do you guys want?”

“A number six with a large coke, no make that a small black coffee,” Cody tells me.

“Me too,” Ethan chimes in.

“I’ve changed my mind. You two shouldn’t fuck, you should just get married,” I tell them.

“I could say the same thing about you and Daphne,” Cody snaps.

“No, you couldn’t, since I’m straight and he’s gay,” Daphne answers back. “Get me the same as tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumb,” she bats her eyelashes, “please?”

I laugh because I realize the order-taker probably heard all of our conversation. Because I know it’ll be the fasted way to get food, I order the same as the others and park in a stall once we get our food so I can eat without also trying to drive at the same time. “You never finished telling us about Brian Kinney,” I remind Cody.

“He’s a fucking asshole,” he mumbles, his mouth filled with bagel.

“And, the circumstances of your sleeping with him?” I’m tired of asking about this. I’m not even sure if I care at this point but right now Cody is the only one of us with a sex life.

“The entire time I was eating I felt like he was checking me out. And, I didn’t go after him. He came after me. I ordered a chocolate shake and the waitress was busy, she’s Michael’s mom, so she asked him to bring it to me. He sat down across from me and started eating Ethan’s fries and then we sort of started talking.”

“About what?” Daphne asks.

“Just a bunch of stuff. He asked why Ethan left, if he was going to be back, I told him no and then offered to give me a ride.”

“And he gave you one,” I drawl.

“He was being so nice to me.” If it weren’t for the fact that we’ve heard him talk with his mouth open many, many times, we probably couldn’t discern what he’s saying. “I started thinking that he actually liked me and then he invited me back to his house. He said his parents were at some church thing and if I wanted, we could hang out.”

“You should’ve said no,” Ethan, states the obvious.

“You don’t understand,” Cody insists. “He was so different from how he usually is. When we got back to his house, he took me up to his room but we didn’t start fucking or anything. He got out his guitars and we messed around playing and singing for a while. I don’t really know how we got to the fucking. One second we were jamming and the next…”

“He was jamming it in,” I say.

“He was fucking me but he took it sorta slow at first,” Cody clarifies, glaring at me in the mirror. “I told him I wasn’t a virgin.”

“So, as soon as you were done, he kicked you out?” Apparently, that’s how Brian Kinney conducts his business.

“No, he didn’t kick me out right away. He lit a joint and we were just lying around, smoking, talking, touching and then he just shot up out of the bed and started throwing my clothes at me. I tried to get him to tell me what was going on but he just kept telling me to ‘leave now.’ He went crazy and practically shoved me out the front door even though he was supposed to take me home. I wasn’t even sure how to get home until I realized I was near your house.”

“You could’ve come by. I would’ve taken you home,” I say. Even if Cody should’ve known better than to go home with Brian, no one deserves to be treated like that. The least that asshole could have done was take him home.

“There was a bus-stop like a block from his house so it wasn’t a big deal,” Cody downplays. “I just thought that since he was acting so differently, he would be different afterward. I wasn’t looking to be his boyfriend or anything. I just hope I don’t have any classes with him because it’s just fucking embarrassing.”

I turn my body so I can really look at Cody and catch his teary eyes before he bows his head. Ethan and I share a sympathetic look.

“It sucks what Brian did,” Daphne says softly. “But after what he did to Jerome, I just don’t understand why you would ever think it’d be a good idea to fuck him.”

I throw my trash in the bag and shove it at Daphne. “Jerome? That hottie, Jerome Banks?”

“Yes!” Daphne shouts.

“You didn’t tell him about Jerome!” Now Ethan is shouting.

“I thought I did,” Daphne gasps for drama.

“Tell him!” Cody demands. “Tell him what the fuck that prick did, Daph.”

I pull out of McDonald’s and start for the school. “Yeah, tell me,” I beg without enthusiasm. Unless she’s going to say that Hottie Jerome and his hottie boyfriend Jesse have broken up, leaving Hottie Jerome available.

“Remember, Jerome was like totally in love with Brian since like second grade,” Daphne starts.

“Yeah,” I quip. “I remember. He only had eyes for him.”

“Until Jesse transferred to our school sophomore year,” Ethan adds.

“Jesse had a huge graduation party, which you didn’t go to,” Daphne continues, glaring at me.

“In case you forgot, Daphne that was the same weekend we moved.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.” She takes a sip of her coke before continuing. “To make a long story short, Jesse caught Brian fucking Jerome in his bed.”

“Holy shit!” I can’t believe they didn’t tell me this! “No wonder you guys hate him so much.”

“They are only one of the many couples we’ve heard that Brian’s broke up. It’s like he does it on purpose,” Ethan insists. “Jerome and Jesse loved one another so much.”

Obviously not enough, I think to myself.

“Brian Kinney only believes in fucking and he thinks that love is bullshit,” Cody adds.

“He’s ruined so many relationships, Justin. The guy is one of those ‘misery loves company’ people,” Ethan swears. “Other than his best friend, Michael, and you and me, he’s fucked, and fucked over, every gay person we know.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like Brian forces those guys to cheat on their boyfriends,” Daphne defends, surprising the rest of us.

I can't say that I completely disagree with that, but from all I’ve heard about him, it sounds as though he deliberately sets out to ruin relationships. “Well, I can’t wait to meet him,” I say sarcastically.

“Oh, you will,” Daphne grumbles. “I talked to Lindsay last night and she said that Brian has swim class first.”

“Oh man,” Cody grumbles. “So do I!”

“Well, just ignore him,” I advise.

“Like, that will be hard,” Ethan laughs. “Brian ignores every guy he’s already had.”

“Hey! What are you doing? You can’t park here!” Cody yells at me.

I point to my mother’s Taylor-Allderdice High School parking pass hanging on the mirror. “Oh yes, I can.”

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

“So, you didn’t have mommy make special swim shorts to fit your ass?”

I hit Cody in the arm and smile when I see a red knuckle-shaped mark on his skin. “Shut up, asshole.” My trunks are a little puffy. They actually look more like capris than board shorts and I wear them because they meet the school's dress code. Cody knows that my summer shorts never could.

“Bell, you and your friend are late.” A tall muscular man with a whistle around his neck barks at us.

“That’s Coach Anderson,” Cody whispers.

We pick up our pace and walk quickly over to other students already seated around the shallow end of the pool. I’d like to ask Cody to point out Brian Kinney to me but the other students are quiet. I don’t want my question to echo around the poolroom.

“This is Justin Taylor,” Cody introduces me as we reach the coach. “He’s new so I had to find him a spare locker.”

Anderson looks me up and down critically. “You any good?”

“At swimming?” I ask and want to hit myself as soon as I say it.

“No, at football,” Anderson remarks, making all the students laugh.

I turn my head, catch Daphne’s eyes, and glare at her for laughing at me. I turn back to the coach and answer, “Yeah. I was pretty good at my old school.” I never went out for swim team though. Sports were definitely not something I focused on at St. James Academy. I took swimming last year only because I was tired of hearing my father bitch about me not participating in any sports. Now I don’t have to worry about that; it’s a required course at Allderdice High.

“Get in lane one and we’ll do some time tests, Taylor,” the coach orders. “The rest of you pair up and take turns working on your backstrokes. Women in lanes three through five, men in lanes six through eight.”

I walk over to lane one and jump into the pool. Halfway there I hear Coach Anderson growl, “Get in lane two, Kinney.”

My skin breaks out in goose-bumps. To stop myself from looking at lane two, I duck under the water and come up only when I'm out of breath. I open my eyes, wipe my hand over my face and find myself looking into the eyes of the 'infamous' Brian Kinney.

Fuck! He is hot in person. I’ve only ever seen yearbook pictures and none of them do him justice.

He smirks at me and licks his lips, his perfect raspberry-colored lips. “Do you know anything about swimming?” he asks, his voice raspy.

“Like the names of strokes and stuff?” I ask him as I back away from the rope and buoys separating our lanes.

“Yeah, like strokes and stuff,” he says in a falsetto, putting on his goggles.

Ah. Okay, so here’s where he becomes an asshole, didn’t take him long. Seriously though, did he have to say that so condescendingly?

“Coach wants me to race you in a front crawl.” He points to the side of me where Anderson is standing with his stop clock in hand.

“It’s what you usually use in free-style, right?” I ask, not wanting to embarrass myself and put my goggles on too.

Brian nods his head. “Yeah, do you know start position from water?”

I nod and back against the wall and get into position. Fuck, I hate that he looks good wearing goggles. No one is supposed to look good in goggles but he does!

“On my whistle,” Anderson says, leaning down so close I think he might fall into the water.

I hear the whistle and push off the wall. I try my hardest not to look at Brian as I swim but as soon as he passes me my eyes immediately scan his body. I can’t help but notice how perfectly made he is. He body is the definition of 'swimmer's build', the tight swim shirt he has on molds to every single muscle and it's making me sweat even in the cool water. Realizing that I’m veering off course, I tear my eyes away from Brian’s body and swim straight as fast as I can, trying to catch up to him and I’m doing a good job of it. I’m tired though and my muscles are burning. I’m definitely not used to this kind of activity, especially not this early in the morning. I probably should’ve asked to warm up first. I’m almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Brian as we reach the end. Coach Anderson is yelling at us, but mostly he’s directing his words at me. I can barely him over the sound of the splashes. When it feels as though I might die if I have to make one more stroke or kick, my hand grabs the side of the pool a few seconds behind Brian.

Oh my god! I was fast, faster than I ever thought I could be. Oh my god! I think I’m having a heart attack. Coffee was so not a good idea.

“How’d you like a spot on the swim team, Taylor?” the coach asks me.

I hear Brian snort out a laugh as he pulls himself out of the pool and sits on the ledge.

“What?” I feel embarrassed as I flop around to get out of the pool. My heart feels as though it might burst from my chest and my lungs are killing me. There’s no way the coach can be serious. He has to see how tired I am and my body is far from looking like a swimmer’s body.

"You’re fast,” Anderson says. “You could use some endurance training, but you could be damn good.”

“You’re serious?” I ask, taking slow deep breaths as I look up at him.

“Coach rarely jokes,” Brian drawls out from beside me.

“I… I don’t know if I’d want to,” I answer. I really can’t imagine swimming like that every day. “Can I think about it?”

“Yes, but I want your answer by tomorrow, Justin. For the rest of class today, work with Kinney on your form. Your arms are sloppy and you need to build up the muscles in them and in your chest. You might’ve beat Kinney if you'd used your shoulders instead of your elbows.” The coach walks off and starts yelling orders to the rest of the class.

I’m confused. “What did he mean about using my elbows?” I ask, sliding back into the water.

Brian gets in too, dips under the rope and slides his body against mine. “It’s just an expression. It means your stroke started at the elbow.”

“How’s it supposed to start?” Please tell me that my voice didn’t sound as breathless to him as it did to me! Wait, even if it did, that’s okay because I’m tired from the race.

He trails his fingers over the burning muscles in my back, over my shoulders and all the way down my arms, ending his exploration by squeezing the tips of my fingers. “You should make full rotations using all of these muscles.” Then, he has the nerve to give me a lustful stare before he swims away! “Come down to the shallow end, Shorty. I can tell you’re getting tired of treading water,” he teases me.

Like I care if he calls me short? My height peaked at 5’8 when I was a freshman. I’ve had years to get used to it and it’s not as if I’m a munchkin. He’s obviously pissed off that I gave him a run for his money. That just might be reason enough to join the swim team.

I swim closer to Brian and barely resist kicking him because I still can’t touch the bottom and he knows that. I roll my eyes at him while he laughs as I move until I can touch with my head above the water. “What now?”

“You’re new here, right?”

“Obviously.”

“You don’t look like a jock.”

“Good.” Seriously, that is a compliment whether or not he means it to be one, I don’t care.

“I doubt today’s race was anything but beginner’s luck. In fact, I wasn’t even swimming that hard.”

“Really?” He’s such a smug asshole!

“I didn’t want you to drown. You looked like a dead fish getting out the pool, especially in those shorts.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I snap. “You should worry about yourself. I’m sure you were trying your hardest or Coach Anderson probably would’ve had your head. We both know it wasn’t beginner’s luck that had me 'on your heels', Kinney. I may be a novice but I’ve got talent.”

“So you didn’t swim at your wittle private school?”

“How the fuck do you know I went to private school?”

His expression, if possible, only becomes smugger. “You just confirmed it. Plus, you look like the type. What happened? Did you flunk out?”

“Yeah, I transferred from St. James Preparatory Academy to Allderdice High to pursue my life-long dream of becoming a jock and the only way to accomplish that was to fail all my classes junior year and get sent to this hole,” I say sarcastically.

“All right, Country Club; let’s work on your form.”

“I hate to disappoint you, but name calling sort of lost its effect in second-grade.”

His smug face turns into a bright, almost proud smirk and he holds his arms out in front of him. “Come here.”

“What? Do you actually think I’m just going to let you molest me in the pool?”

“Oh, so you’ve heard of my reputation. Let me guess, you’re the Justin that hangs out with Daphne and the band geek?”

“That’s me,” I admit with pride. I notice that he doesn’t mention Cody as part of our group.

“Come on. Place your chest over my arms so we can start trying to correct your terrible form.”

“That’s how little kids learn how to swim,” I gasp. “I’m not doing that.”

“Fine.” He narrows his eyes at me and cocks his head to the side. “Then you go tell Coach that you don’t want to be on the team so I don’t have to waste my time teaching you.”

I move toward him and jump up onto his arms. “You’re so worried that I’ll become the new teacher’s pet and take some attention away from you.”

“I get enough attention with other extracurricular activities,” he sneers. “As for me being a ‘teacher’s pet’ as you put it; it’s not so bad. I’m almost guaranteed an A in this class and I’ll be getting a second scholarship for college. Do you think I care what any of our classmates think? Especially you?”

The answer is obvious so I don’t reply to his question. “What do you want me to do now?” I ask, kicking my legs and splashing him in the face.

“Don’t kick water in my face, asshole or I’ll hold you under the water,” he warns me, dropping his arms twice and effectively dunking me for a few seconds.

I maintain my cool though and once I’m above water again I say, “Sorry,” but we both know I don’t mean it.

“I don’t want you to use your legs, you have good thrust but you need good pull. Cup your hands and circle each arm in and out of the water on a two-count. The goal is to keep your shoulders and head out of the water.”

I do as he directs and he supports me so my ass and legs are practically out of the water. He angles my body in an awkward position so that I have to stroke quickly to keep my head up.

“Keep going and you’ll gain momentum to boost your chest up,” he commands.

My muscles burn worse than when I was racing him. We make several laps back and forth down the lane. I seem to get the hang of it after the third lap and it’s less of a struggle to keep my chest floating almost as high as my ass and legs. It’s really hard instinctually not to kick my legs in the water. When I do, Brian slaps the back of my calves and makes me start the lap over again.

Other than directions, insults and the occasional and surprising encouragement, Brian and I don’t speak until Coach blows his whistle and orders everyone out of the pool. I swim off his arms toward the ledge and start to pull myself up when he jerks me back down into the water. “What the fuck?” I hiss, turning around.

Brian places his arms on the ledge, trapping me in between them. “So that we’re clear, I admit that you have potential.”

“Whatever,” I huff. I really don’t care if he thinks I have potential or not. I have one foot on the tile when I feel a hand squeeze my left ass cheek. I try to not to stumble as I make it the rest of the way out and whip around to face him. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“I wasn’t done talking to you.” He hops out of the pool gracefully and places himself so close to me that the water droplets dripping off his chin land on my face.

Fucker. “Unless you want me to tell the coach you’re being 'handsy,' you’d better not touch me again except for the specific purpose of training.”

“It was an accident,” he lies while daring to rub his thumb down the center of my chest. “See you tomorrow, Virgin,” he calls over his shoulder as he walks away from me. He grabs a towel off the shelf and wraps it around his slim waist, not bothering to wipe himself off as he walks toward the locker room.

I watch him, hoping he slips and falls, and I’m disappointed when he disappears into the locker room without doing so.

I really hate Brian Kinney. He’s everything negative Cody, Ethan and Daphne ever said about him. He really has no redeeming qualities at all.

“So, how’d it go practicing with Brian?” Daphne asks, coming up beside me, wrapped in a towel, her teeth chattering.

“He’s an asshole,” I mutter. “Everything basically went okay until at the end when he grabbed my ass as if he was entitled to it,” I tell her.

“I told you he was an asshole,” Cody says, joining us.

“Well at least I didn’t fuck him after knowing that,” I tease him.

“Yeah, bad call,” Cody grumbles. “So, that had to have sucked being paired up with him.”

“Why did Coach do that?” Daphne asks. “Brian usually only swims with other guys from the team.”

“I don’t think anyone on the team is in this class,” Cody answers her.

“He called me a virgin,” I say, bringing their attention back to my crisis while Cody and I grab towels and start to dry off.

“But you are a virgin,” Daphne says.

“Yeah, and I don’t need you to remind me. It was the way he said it,” I explain. “He said it all condescending and…”

“Why are you letting him bother you? Just ignore him,” Daphne interrupts me.

“I’m bothered because I was just offered a spot on the swim team.”

“Shut up!” Cody gasps. “You’re lying.”

“I almost beat Brian in a free-style heat,” I say proudly.

“You did not!” Cody yells.

“Yeah, I almost did. That’s why Brian was told to give me one-on-one lessons,” I grit out through clenched teeth. “But I don’t know if I can stand being paired up with him day-in and day-out. I have until tomorrow to give the coach an answer.”

“You can think about that answer later. Let’s go get changed, I’m freezing,” Cody says, shuddering.

“Meet me outside the gym doors,” Daphne yells, shuffling away from us and heading toward the girl’s locker room. “We’ve got French next period.”

“She’s going to take forever and make us late,” Cody whispers.

“When we go out, you take longer to get ready than she does.” I really don’t understand that since he never styles his hair and only wears t-shirts and jeans.

We pass by Brian, who is already changed and tying his shoes, and it occurs to me that I didn’t see him in the locker room before practice or sitting around the pool with everyone when Cody and I showed up. He was late and Coach Anderson didn’t say a fucking thing to him but he was ready to ream Cody. Fucking teacher’s pet.

Fucking hot teacher’s pet.

Whoa! I did not just think that.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

French class was just as boring here as it was at St. James. Mr. Bugert, or Mr. Bugger as everyone calls him, refused to let anyone speak anything but French. We had to stand up, introduce ourselves, and tell him our favorite food, activities and a whole bunch of other lame shit. He also sat us alphabetically by our last names, so while Cody, Daphne and Ethan got to sit next to one another up front, I was stuck in the back row beside a pair the ‘Sweet Valley High’ twins. They whispered about how hot I was the whole period and by the end of it, I felt nauseous.

I’m relieved to see Lindsay Peterson enter my next class right before me. We had first hour swim class together but I didn’t get to say hi. I hope that I’ll have more luck with seating arrangements in Literature class than I did in French.

“Justin!” Lindsay calls my name the moment I walk into the classroom, making me smile.

“Please go stand by the blackboard,” the teacher, Mrs. Lockwood directs me.

I wave to Lindsay and walk across the room where she and the other students are standing near the blackboard. “Hey, Lindsay.” She’s a close friend of Daphne’s and has always been cool when I’ve hung out with them, so it’s great that we’ll have class together.

“Mrs. Lockwood is going to assign us seats,” she grumbles quietly. “In Science class last hour, Mr. Fink let us choose where we wanted to sit. Doesn’t this make you feel like we’re in grade school?”

“Definitely,” I whisper back. “I haven’t seen you much this summer, anything good happen since I saw you last?”

Lindsay smiles shyly and a blush creeps up her cheeks. “You could say that.”

“What?” It must be something good.

“Melanie and I got to go stay at her aunt’s house in P-town for a couple of weeks. It was really romantic,” she gushes.

As much as the thought of romanticism between lesbians makes me sick I smile at her and reply, “That’s cool.”

“What about you? Daphne told me that you decided to come here this year but she wouldn’t say why.”

I’m saved from having to explain anything when the bell rings and Mrs. Lockwood starts directing everyone to their seats. My eyes are riveted on one of my classmates. Before I can stare for too long, the teacher tells me to take my seat. Thankfully, I’m located horizontally in the same row, directly behind Lindsay in the back of the classroom, and not surrounded by the group of girls who have been staring at me since I walked in. I know I’m not a flaming gay, but come on, I’m not that butch either. Don’t they have the littlest bit of gaydar?

The guy who's caught my attention is in my row at the very front. I sort of zone out on him the entire time Mrs. Lockwood is explaining the syllabus she passed to us. I wasn’t listening closely enough to catch his last name when she directed him to sit down, but it must start with one of the first letters of the alphabet. I think he’s gay but he looks straight too. I don’t usually have a hard time figuring this out so as soon the teacher tells us we can talk quietly with those around us, I tap Lindsay on the shoulder.

“Yes?”

“Who's that guy at the front of my row?” I whisper, watching him as he talks to the person beside him.

Lindsay laughs and leans over, answering quietly, “That’s Ben Bruckner. And yes, he’s gay.”

“Really?” I ask, my interest and something else peaked. He looks vaguely familiar.

“He isn’t totally out though, and he has a boyfriend, my friend, Michael.”

“Oh.” I don’t know why, but every hot guy I’m interested in is always taken or straight.

“Don’t worry, Justin. You’re cute I’m sure it won’t take long for someone to notice that.”

“It hasn’t,” I tell her. “I’ve had girls giggling about me,” I say with false enthusiasm.

“If I weren’t spoken for, I’d tell you that I wish I were in your shoes,” she snickers.

The bell rings and I quickly put my stuff in my backpack. “Do you have lunch next?” I ask Lindsay. Cody, Daphne and Ethan have first lunch so I’m sort of guessing that Lindsay will too and I’ll be eating solo in second lunch.

“Nope,” she says to my relief. “I’ve got Art History next with your mom. What do you have?”

Finally some good news today! “I’ve got the same class,” I tell her as we exit the classroom.

“Melanie’s got class with us too and…”

“Hey!” Melanie practically runs into us as we exit Lit class. “How do you like Allderdice High?”

“It’s a big change,” I tell her as we walk through the crowded hall. “It’s a more relaxed environment here.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” Lindsay asks me.

“Definitely. It’s just weird.”

“What’s weird?” my mother asks as we walk into the studio.

I groan and realize that this is going to take some getting used to. “I just never realized how nice it is to have friends at school. I didn’t really have any at St. James except this girl named September who was in Art Club with me. But I think she only talked to me because she wanted in my pants.”

“That’s really pathetic,” a voice says from behind me. “Poor little rich kid didn’t have any friends so he downgraded his education in hopes of finding just one lost soul he could connect with.”

“Shut up, Brian!” Lindsay warns, glaring.

Just when I thought my day was looking up.

“Brian, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t insult my son,” my mother adds.

I’m being completely humiliated right now!

“Sorry, Ms. Taylor. I didn’t mean any harm to your sonny boy.” Brian drapes his arm around my shoulders and squeezes me against him. “He knows I was joking with him.”

I push Brian away from me, gritting out my reply, “Right.”

My mom looks back and forth between us with a smile, oblivious to Brian’s bullshit. “Take your seats, guys, the class is filling up quickly,” she tells us.

I give my mother a fake smile and follow Lindsay and Melanie over to a large table with four chairs. They take the two next to one another and I take one across from Lindsay. I try not to groan in frustration as Brian sits beside me.

“You have other friends in this class,” Melanie remarks to Brian. “Can’t you pollute their tables with your presence?”

“Mel,” Lindsay says softly, covering Melanie’s hand.

“Fuck off,” Brian whispers and smiles deviously at me. “So are you an artist, or did you take your Mommy’s class for an easy A?”

I haven’t even been at Allderdice High for half a day and already I've made an enemy.

Wonderful.

TBC in Chapter 2